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Why Trump is on the minds of Virginia voters picking a governor

President Trump’s involvement in the race has been limited to four tweets, but polling suggests he is casting a very long shadow over how voters relate to the Republican candidate, Ed Gillespie, who's embraced some of Mr. Trump’s signature issues. John Yang reports on the president’s role.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    There’s an election in Virginia next Tuesday, in this off-year’s only competitive governor’s race, one that analysts will be watching closely for insights about voters’ attitudes toward President Trump.

    We sent our own John Yang to take a look.

  • John Yang:

    On a soggy fall day in Richmond, Virginia, the menu was cider, with a large serving of politics.

  • Man:

    Are we going to change the course of history in this country?

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • John Yang:

    It was billed as a get-out-the-vote event for the Virginia election, but most of the talk was about President Trump’s turbulent first year.

    Former Attorney General Eric Holder —

  • Eric Holder:

    If you’re there with neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville, you have got to turn in your good person card.

  • John Yang:

    Chelsea Higgs Wise, a clinical social worker, helped organize the event for Democratic candidate for governor Ralph Northam.

  • Chelsea Higgs Wise:

    I really understand that everything that’s going on has to do with the Republican train and the Trump train. But this has pushed me to take all of my free time, truly, and dedicate it to the elections.

  • John Yang:

    For some, Mr. Trump is irrelevant. Tanner Hirschfeld is a 19-year-old University of Virginia student who is active in Republican politics. He’s backing Ed Gillespie in the governor’s race.

  • Tanner Hirschfeld:

    People are coming to me, saying, well, you can’t vote for somebody like Donald Trump. I will say, I didn’t know Donald Trump was running in the state of Virginia. That’s news to me.

  • John Yang:

    But polling suggests the president is casting a very long shadow over the hotly contested off-year governor’s race in the only Southern state Mr. Trump lost.

    A new Washington Post-Schar School survey found that nearly six in 10 likely voters said Mr. Trump is an important factor in their vote. The same poll found the president’s approval rating among likely voters at only 38 percent.

    That sentiment holds true for Northam supporter Eric Anderson, a chemical engineer.

  • Eric Anderson:

    Gillespie has done little or nothing to distance himself from Trump, and so I assume he would go along with whatever programs Trump wants to institute.

  • John Yang:

    And for Gillespie backer Alison Katzman.

    How important is it that you elect a governor who gets along with President Trump?

  • Alison Katzman:

    Very important. Right now, I just want Ed Gillespie to win so I don’t have

  • John Yang:

    How closely do these voters associate the president and the Republican candidate?

    When you look at Ed Gillespie, do you see Donald Trump?

  • Eric Anderson:

    When I look at him, I don’t. But when I listen to him, I do.

  • Tanner Hirschfeld:

    Absolutely not. In Donald Trump, I see more of an opportunist. Ed, I think, has been a lifelong conservative.

  • Alison Katzman:

    No, I see Ed Gillespie. But nobody’s Donald Trump except Donald Trump.

  • Chelsea Higgs Wise:

    Charlottesville continues to ring in my ears and be the picture in my head, and that, of course, is Donald Trump.

  • John Yang:

    Gillespie, a former Republican operative and lobbyist, has tried to distance himself from the president’s behavior, here at a July debate moderated by Judy Woodruff.

  • Ed Gillespie:

    I don’t agree with everything the president says or tweets, and I have made that clear, but my focus is on Virginia. And we have got to get Virginia growing again. When I disagree with the president, I will make it clear.

  • John Yang: 

    While Vice President Mike Pence has visited Virginia to try to elect the state’s first Republican governor since 2009, the president’s involvement has been limited to four tweets.

    Gillespie’s campaign ads, though, embrace Mr. Trump’s issues. Illegal immigration.

  • Narrator:

    Ralph Northam voted in favor of sanctuary cities that let dangerous illegal immigrants back on the street.

  • John Yang: 

    And Confederate monuments.

  • Ed Gillespie:

    I’m for keeping them up. And he’s for taking them down.

  • John Yang:

    Polls find both issues far down on the list of voters’ priorities. But they are very important to some of the Trump supporters who voted against Gillespie in the surprisingly close Republican primary.

    Gillespie backer Alison Katzman, a tax preparer, didn’t vote for him in the primary. At the top of her concerns, Confederate monuments.

  • Alison Katzman: 

    That is one issue that I feel that is very important. It’s sort of like the left at this point is tilting at windmills. We have got to get rid of this statue when that name offends somebody, and then it’s something else.

  • John Yang:

    That’s a concern for Northam voter Eric Anderson. He’s a registered Republican, and voted for Gillespie in the primary.

  • Eric Anderson:

    What disturbs me is, having won, Gillespie seems to be moving not towards the center, but towards the fringe. When I see the campaign ads and he says at the end, you know, he authorized this message, he’s also authorized a Trump message.

  • John Yang:

    Northam seems to have recalculated his approach to the president after the physician got national attention for this diagnosis:

  • Ralph Northam:

    I’m listening carefully to Donald Trump, and I think he’s a narcissistic maniac.

  • John Yang: 

    His tone now?

  • Ralph Northam:

    And, as a doctor, nobody ever asks if I’m a Democrat or a Republican. They just want my help. So, if Donald Trump is helping Virginia, I will work with him.

  • John Yang:

    While the voters we talked to are split on the president’s role in this Virginia contest, they do agree on the importance of the outcome.

    If you woke up, the morning after Election Day and found out that Ed Gillespie had won, is there anything you would be concerned about?

  • Eric Anderson:

    I think that Gillespie would be especially bad for immigrants. I think he would be awful for women’s rights, particularly the right to choose.

  • Chelsea Higgs Wise: 

    I would feel like those pictures, those people in Charlottesville, they won. Those people and groups, and with the tiki torches just walking towards me and my daughter ready to take away our rights and say, you don’t matter.

  • John Yang: 

    You learn that Ralph Northam has won the election, what would you be worried about?

  • Alison Katzman: 

    I will be very unhappy that the state is going to go even further to the left.

  • Tanner Hirschfeld:

    I think this race is super important for the future of Virginia politics.

  • John Yang:

    One that’s drawing attention nationwide for signs about the future of both parties.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m John Yang in Alexandria, Virginia.

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